acting my age (whatever that means)
A month into the summer before my last semester of college and everything still seems kind of hazy. There’s really no swift transition from the semester’s end into summer, at least in my case.
But I’ve been giving myself more permission to “be a 22-year-old” so to speak. It’s been brought to my attention that I create so many unnecessary rules for myself, and that I’m really hard on myself when it comes to being social. I guess in the back of the mind I believe that since I graduate college in six months, I have to grow up and be serious. But what else am I supposed to do, right now? I have a LinkedIn, I carry business cards, I know how to network, I pay rent, I come home as much as I can between shifts at work to take care of the heap of fur and bones that is my beloved cat. Some of my friends have graduated already, and listening to them talk about spending hours applying for jobs online has not only made me more sympathetic but increasingly anxious about my own career prospects.
I know everyone says this at the beginning of every month, but how is it already June? The first half of 2019, spring semester included, slipped between my fingers. It’s definitely been an emotional year so far, there’s no doubt about that. I started a new journal in an attempt to cleanse myself of the chaos I more or less put myself through from January onwards, but not to absolve myself of any emotional responsibility.
For the past month or so I’ve been trying to write a review of Normal People by Sally Rooney (who made her breakout in the literary world with Conversations with Friends in 2017), the must-have book that everyone my age is most likely carrying around in their canvas tote bags this summer. Usually I’m able to separate myself from fiction, especially because it’s not my preferred genre to read, but this novel hit dangerously too close to home for me regarding its premise. Perhaps this sounds narcissistic, but every time I’ve sat down and attempted to write about this book, I’ve failed to do so without mentioning a personal connection. Oh well?
Normal People tells the story of Marianne and Connell, two people who, over the course of four years (from their last year of high school to college), cannot stay apart from another despite the many times they’ve tried to withdraw from each other’s lives. In the age of self-aware Millennials, some may argue that Marianne and Connell’s undeniable magnetism is the foundation of a toxic relationship (but I find that the word “toxic” is being thrown around too much these days, detracting from its real meaning—I’ve seen it too much on social media). However, I like to think that we all know someone who has some kind of connection like that with someone, however nuanced it may be. While the details of my five-year non-relationship with my own Connell aren’t exactly parallel to those in the book, I found myself relating to Normal People more than I’d like to admit. While yes, Marianne and Connell hurt each other, and come from different backgrounds, and pursue other relationships with other people, they still find their way back to each other after long or short periods of time, and both use sarcasm and their own intelligence as defense mechanisms (I’m specifically guilty of this). I think that Rooney did an excellent job of exploring this kind of relationship, and describing the mystifying phenomenon that is human connection. It opened my eyes to the different ways people approach intimacy and vulnerability (especially in the face of past trauma), whether it be with other people or by themselves.
A concept that I’ve coined to describe my own dating life is “emotional tourism” — when guys enter my life, take a look around, and leave before any kind of attachment can be acknowledged. In actuality it’s quite emotionally draining and damaging, and I’ve gone through it repeatedly. Last month, when my own aforementioned Connell resurfaced, I told them they were a tourist in my life, to which they responded, unphased “Everybody is a tourist in everbody’s lives.” For so long I romanticized the concept of someone coming in and out of my life, which my friends of course didn’t like to see. I can never have a normal relationship with this person, just like Marianne and Connell can’t have a normal relationship because of their rocky history. But as we get older we’re supposed to learn the most from relationships that aren’t harmonious. I’ve been challenged again and again by this person emotionally and intellectually from when I was seventeen to now, and this past March I finally put all of it into words for an essay contest—history has a way of repeating itself, I guess, since I did this same thing in high school, but with poetry (which sounds much worse I know). I have to write about my feelings in order to feel as though I’m in control of them somehow. But sometimes, our feelings can go beyond our own understanding. Anyway, I did something self-destructive and let them read the essay I wrote, which I guess was “the last straw” in terms of pursuing any kind of communication with me in the future. But if I write about someone, I let them read the piece, at least after a little time has passed. I’m not a coward in that sense—I can’t hide behind my words, since I’m the person attached to them, and I’m responsible for my own voice. But yeah, in this moment I’m sad at the possibility that this is perhaps the end of an era with the Connell in my life. I hope wherever they are, they’re happy, or trying to be. And I have to do the same, despite everything in our past and otherwise unclear present.
Since last summer a lot has changed. While yes, I’m still commuting back and forth from Downtown Cleveland and listening to whatever “sad indie” playlist I’ve curated, the relationships I have in my life have strengthened in their own ways, which of course I’m grateful for. I mean, thank God I’m not the same girl who was sitting on her bed eating microwave popcorn and listening to SZA thinking I was in love with someone this time last year. No, this year I’ve ventured to unfamiliar territory, namely, The Flats, which can only be described as every twentysomething Clevelander’s Tinder profile come to life. Still, I went down there after work on a Friday night which is unheard of for me, but hanging out with my closest friends from high school on a rooftop bar and heading to our favorite 24-hour restaurant afterwards was definitely worth it. While standing in line getting our IDs checked at the bar in The Flats, my friend said to me “Look at us! Acting our age on a Friday night.” I laughed and breathed a sigh of relief. For so long I’ve compartmentalized different parts of my identity—the part of me who is a writer, the part of me who is astrology-obsessed, the self-deprecating part of me who jokes about being a grandma, and the quick-witted-pop-culture-reference-spewing part of me, and the part of me who can drink and go out and be loud. They all contribute to my personhood.
I’m learning, slowly but surely, to enjoy things as they’re happening, rather than focus on the dread and uncertainty of post-grad life. And it feels good.
All the best,